OPINION: Jill Biden advances American foreign policy with a soft hand

OPINION: Jill Biden advances American foreign policy with a soft hand

US First Lady Jill Biden (C) interacts with women from the Maasai community at Loseti village in Kajiado county, Kenya, on February 26, 2023 where she heard about the impoverishing impact of drought to the herder community during the third day of her visit to Kenya where she toured a drought response site to highlight the impacts of drought on communities. (Photo by Tony KARUMBA / AFP)


Jill Biden's recent tour to Kenya provided an alternate dimension to the Joe Biden foreign policy matrix through the use of soft power.

The First Lady of the United States (FLOTUS) focused on women's issues, highlighting the contribution women make in society. She also emphasized the challenge of women being continually marginalized when they attempt to speak up for their rights.

Her speech and visit echo the messaging of former First Lady Hillary Clinton at the 1995 Beijing 4th United Nations World Conference on women's rights on the idea that human rights are women's rights and the need for a concerted global effort to advance women's rights.

Why has Biden chosen to advance American foreign policy with the soft hand of his spouse?

Jill Biden softens the hard power image of the American president who has the constitutional mandate of Commander-in-Chief and enforcer.

American hard power centres around the use of military force and sanctions. The American president advances American interests abroad by the use of hard power to achieve American foreign policy goals.

While America supports Ukraine militarily in the ongoing war in Eastern Europe, this tour by the first lady softens the image of the American executive while highlighting American foreign policy via women's issues.

Biden is also playing to reinforce the institutional framework of the recently concluded US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington through Jill Biden's visit to Africa.

This visit not only builds on the success of the US-Africa Summit but also casts the President and First Lady in a positive light among key Democratic Party constituencies.

These are liberal women and African American voters. These constituencies will be central to a successful Biden campaign for the presidency should he decide to run in 2024.

Traditionally, presidential spouses are associated with the head-of-state aspect of the presidency. This role deals mainly with ceremonial roles.

Most first ladies have limited their activities to the ceremonial portion of the presidency. Jill Biden is no exception. Because of this ceremonial role, first ladies are not subjected to the same degree of media scrutiny or partisan attack as the president.

Jill Biden's visit to Kenya is timely. However, many challenges continue to face women in spite of the lofty rhetoric of the FLOTUS.

Civil wars, famine, poor governance and public health challenges directly impact African women. They are the most vulnerable and marginalised population in Africa.

Apart from the soft power of FLOTUS, the Biden Administration should reemphasize good governance, democracy and the rule of law as central to American foreign policy in engaging Kenya and Africa more broadly.

Prof Monda teaches political science, international relations, and American government at the City University of New York (York College), New York, USA. @dmonda1, www.davidmonda.com


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